It didn’t take long for Ryan McMullan’s ‘Belfast City’ to start drifting down the corridors of the Utilita Arena in Sheffield on Sunday evening as the Belfast Giants’ Elite League title celebrations got into full swing, which quickly became a melodious rendition of ‘Dancing On My Own’.
Jeff Baum and Sam Ruopp both found hats from somewhere. Jackson Whistle and Darcy Murphy obtained some lukewarm beer that substituted for champagne. Scott Conway celebrated with his family, who had all made the trip. Sheffield Steelers head coach Aaron Fox was a class act as he came down to congratulate the Giants despite seeing his own side's championship hopes dashed.
The emotional release when Conway struck the shoot-out winner in the 2-1 victory over the Steelers and launched his equipment into the crowd was the culmination of seven months of painstaking grind each and every week. They’d long known they were the best team, this was finally confirmation.
Indeed, confidence has never been lacking in this team as before the season had even begun they were preaching how they were the best side in the league, and now they have the hardware to prove it. It was never a case of arrogance, either, rather a genuine self-belief from the moment they stepped foot in the SSE Arena that they were part of a championship-winning side.
And they never shied away from it. Head coach Adam Keefe had taped up pictures of the Elite League trophy in the locker room over the weekend to remind his players what they were going for — along with the phrase ‘Only lions, no gazelles’ — and they delivered convincingly.
But just as sweet as Sunday’s celebrations were, you have to rewind to November when the atmosphere in the exact same locker room in the Utilita Arena was much more sombre for just why it mattered so much that it was wrapped up at the weekend.
A 7-1 hammering by the Steelers early in the season was a wake-up call, netminder Tyler Beskorowany - who was exceptional on the weekend gone by - pulled after giving up five in the first period alone, the Giants beaten soundly in every aspect of the game. That night they exited via the back door of the arena and vowed to never feel like that again.
They wouldn’t. Keefe’s men would lose just nine more times for the rest of the season, none of them blow-outs.
Indeed, a cursory look at the Elite League table is proof of their dominance beyond just the points totals. They’ve scored 212 goals, 14 more than any other team. Incredibly, they’ve conceded just 98, which is 29 less than any other team, largely down to the fact that they averaged just 25.52 shots against per game, four better than any other side.
To single out any player or line as most important is wholly unfair. The top line of J.J. Piccinich, Conway and David Goodwin has taken the headlines most of the season for their offensive output, but so many more have stepped up and been heroes.
It's safe to say that Keefe and head of hockey operations Steve Thornton got recruitment spot on this season, something which is notoriously hard to do, and the fact they did so without adding any additional names to the line-up throughout the campaign - barring a brief cameo from Jonathan Boxill - is all the more impressive.
But even the recruitment they did back in the summer was superb. We always knew Conway and Goodwin would be scorers, but who saw Piccinich scoring 42 goals only a season after he scored 11 for the Orlando Solar Bears? Or Mark Cooper's 29 a year removed from a 12-goal campaign in South Carolina? Did anybody expect Ruopp to be the leading defenceman in +/- with a +42 rating?
Or how about the masterstroke from Keefe to put Ciaran Long back on defence to fill in for injuries? The Great Britain international has excelled in that role despite being forced to adapt on the fly, and could be a long-term option there moving forward. Fellow Brits Lewis Hook and Mark Garside have had perhaps their best seasons in teal, too.
Recruitment only goes so far, though, and it is mental strength that has prevailed within the Giants' locker room. They’ve had to battle through injury adversity — in particular in that Challenge Cup quarter-final against Coventry — a Covid outbreak during the busiest part of their schedule around Christmas and a Cup run to be the ones lifting the trophy. That is not down to one line or one goaltender.
Rather, it is down to a special group that has completely bought into the Giants ethos. From the goaltending to the goal scorers, this is a side driven by an all-encompassing desire to win. Look no further than Darcy Murphy, who scored 50 goals in his last season with the Giants but this year, due to injuries, has had to play a fourth-line role and has taken to it like a duck to water.
Buy-in like that cannot be bought, it is inherent.
And it is that buy-in that means some day, two more pictures will be added to the wall outside the Giants' locker room at the SSE Arena - one of Goodwin lifting the Challenge Cup and another lifting the Elite League trophy. As they like to say in Belfast, 'Once a Giant, always a Giant', they will be forever remembered and forever adored.
And don’t forget, they could still write themselves more history if they add the Play-Off title and complete the Grand Slam in a few weeks’ time. These lions aren’t done roaring yet.